This Halloween marks the tenth anniversary of the Deftones’s fifth album, Saturday Night Wrist, if you can believe it. The past decade has been a mixed bag for the band; bassist Chi Cheng passed away from medical complications a few years after a debilitating car accident that left him in a coma; the band’s 2010 release Diamond Eyes proved to be a major success for the band, possibly garnering more acclaim than their 2001 smash hit White Pony; and singer Chino Moreno contributed to a number of side projects, including Team Sleep, Palms, and Crosses.
I think during all that tumult we lost sight of what an incredible album Saturday Night Wrist is. It was—and still is—an album that has polarized some fans. While it may not have the success that White Pony has, it’s a spiritual sequel to it (I highly emphasize “spiritual,” as SNW is something entirely different at the end of the day), and the emotional pit of darkness the album has is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s highly debatable whether SNW is better than Diamond Eyes (or White Pony, for that matter), but it is an important stepping stone for the band. Deftones proved with this album that they can always write a very solid album, experiment musically, and step into an emotional abyss and return with something incredible.
When I say that Saturday Night Wrist is a spiritual sequel to White Pony, I mean this both sonically and thematically rather than literally. White Pony themes dipped a little into drug use, with the title itself being a reference to cocaine, and tracks like “Knife Prty” refer to shooting coke, but it ultimately didn’t show the other, darker side to drugs. SNW goes deeper. It might not be explicit in its direct references to drugs (though one could debate about the meaning of “Cherry Waves”) but it’s sort of the effect to White Pony’s cause.
To say that Deftones were trying to go back to do another White Pony isn’t correct, though; Saturday Night Wrist is an album that stands on its own, despite some noticeable resemblances to previous Deftones work. The band seems to follow a metaphorical rollercoaster of sound, making heavy and harsh albums to compliment softer albums (e.g. Deftones as compared to White Pony, or Diamond Eyes as compared to Saturday Night Wrist), though the upcoming Gore seems to break this pattern as the singles released sound more like Koi No Yokan than anything else.
Again, bleakness is the main feeling that comes off of a listen of Saturday Night Wrist. There are constant lyrical references to the earth’s destruction (“Hole in the Earth,” “Kimdracula”) and relationships crumbling (“Xerces,” “Beware”). On a musical level, many songs are nothing short of sad; “Xerces” in particular gives off the feeling of never seeing a friend again, and the beginning of “Riviére” sounds like the morning after “Xerces,” as you try to get over someone but they remain etched on your skull. Chino Moreno perhaps said it best in an interview with Beat Magazine, describing the album as “when you’re alone on Saturday nights and your only best friend is your shaking wrist.” (The album title, for those unaware is a reference to nerve damage experienced when addicts fall asleep on a limb.)
Musically, the album feels like White Pony’s successor as well. The experimentation and influences from outside genres that the band played around with in tracks like “Digital Bath” and “Teenager” are back in greater force, and they get blended more into the Deftones overall sound as well. While the beat and verse for “Pink Cellphone” seem alien for a Deftones song, its chorus definitely brings a listen back to familiar territory. (And let’s just not talk about the last minute or so of “Pink Cellphone,” okay? Okay.) “Cherry Waves” shows off this blend of sounds even more, with the lush sampling really melding with the guitar on the entire song. (Presumably) Chino’s influence on the guitar parts of Saturday Night Wrist adds a little punk edge to some songs—“Mein,” is probably the best example, as instead of Stephen Carpenter’s heavy, rhythmic guitar riffs, the song uses simple, essentially strummed chords. Some of the guitar work in “Rapture”—specifically after the intro (about thirty-seconds in)—sounds a little like it was taken from a nineties skate punk band, though the subsequent explosion of the band’s instruments after that takes away that feeling.
What really added to Saturday Night Wrist’s tracks is the increased involvement of sampler/keyboardist/turntablist Frank Delgado. Although he was considered a full member of the band as early as the White Pony era (and contributing to the band’s sound even before that), Delgado’s work on Deftones albums weren’t always obvious. Of course, there were instances where it was blatant (“Digital Bath,” “Change [In The House of Flies],”) but for the most part, he seemed to add more effects to the song rather than contributions. Saturday Night Wrist changed this, though; every track has Delgado’s fingerprints on it, whether it’s the more evident keyboard parts on “Cherry Waves” and “Xerces,” or simple little additions like the end of “Hole In the Earth.”
I personally find it amazing that the band was able to put out such a work, despite the relationships between the members splintering during the making of the album. In fact, the band actually called a brief hiatus during Saturday Night Wrist’s recording. One would think that inner conflicts in an act would result in lower quality (Metallica’s Saint Anger is a perfect example of this being true), but instead the band managed to put that frustration and anger into the record. (Chino once explained that the lyrics to “Rapture” and “Hole in the Earth” both related to his frustrations with the band at the time.)
Is Saturday Night Wrist as big as, say Diamond Eyes, or White Pony? No. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s like a half carat diamond—it might be more inconspicuous, but its form is nonetheless pristine. And if you want to be more uncouth about it, Saturday Night Wrist is a grower, not a shower.